Stopping the aging clock: do these cosmetics really work?


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With 1,400 new anti-aging skin products launched in 2011, it's clear what's on our minds -- and on our faces. As boomers age, it's no surprise that products promising to disguise that process represent the fastest growing sector of the cosmetics industry, roughly $7 billion a year.

Millions of dollars are being spent to develop treatments for issues ranging from dry skin to brown spots, blotching and redness, fine lines, wrinkles, loss of elasticity and collagen deficiencies. Some promise to replace cosmetic surgery procedures, although most doctors would disagree. The majority of products claim to make visible improvements that can prolong the illusion of youth and therefore enable users to postpone medical procedures they may be contemplating.

Every major cosmetics company and many specialty firms whose claim to fame is a proprietary ingredient are engaged in fierce competition. To some degree, they have been successful. The days of simple moisturizers are long gone as multitasking products combine ingredients to target several skin-care issues at once. The science behind these products is both impressive and evasive, with companies using everything from mushrooms to vitamin C, from glacial water to flower extracts.

"The whole industry is really confusing for consumers because the FDA doesn't really control these products. They are considered cosmetic so they don't fall under their purview," says Leo McCafferty, a board-certified plastic surgeon, chairman of the Allegheny County Medical Society and president-elect of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

"Some do work, but the question is: Do they work for you? A lot of it depends on your skin type. There needs to be some rationale for how you pick what you use."

Certainly buying products from reputable companies is a start. So is understanding that there is no such thing as a miracle. While much can be done to improve skin tone and luminosity, nothing will make anyone look 20 again, or stay frozen at 40. That said, many of the products we tested showed visible results, though none are as effective as prescription formulas, lasers, certain peels or surgery.

Anti-aging products fall into two categories: those that even skin tone by fading discolorations and those that plump and firm the skin. Some products promise both. Many make a difference, but the bottom line is they take longer to achieve results and the results are less impressive than stronger prescription formulations. For many women, these products can accomplish enough to make them happy and at a reasonable price. More severe aging issues still require stronger prescription treatments or invasive medical procedures.

Suzan Obagi, a dermatologist and director of the UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center, notes that "with the right products we've had the ability to transform someone's skin for the better for some time." Her father, Zein Obagi, created the groundbreaking Obagi Medical Products skincare line available through physicians.

"But there is not one nonprescription product that can compete with what we offer from prescription products. These are great for the patient who is beginning to see early sun damage, but none of them will get rid of more advanced problems to the extent of pharmaceuticals. And not all pharmaceuticals will do it. At some point a laser or peel will be needed for the rest," Dr. Suzan Obagi says.

Cosmetic companies cannot advertise that their products alter skin function, which is ultimately necessary for lasting results, because "the FDA would pounce on them and it would cost them over $300 million to get FDA approval," Dr. Obagi says. So they use vague language, such as "reduces the appearance of fine lines."

The majority of the new anti-aging products are excellent at hydrating the skin, which gives it a more youthful appearance "but doesn't make it more youthful," Dr. Obagi notes. She cites three key steps to slowing down the aging process: use a well-manufactured topical vitamin C serum (an anti-oxidant), apply a zinc or titanium-based sunscreen (90 percent are chemical-based, which she says can cause a chemical reaction that damages skin further) and a topical retinoid such as retinol or Retin-A.

Dr. McCafferty suggests people consult with a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon, most of whom have skin-care divisions, to see what products will address their issues. Ultimately, there is no quick fix for sagging or excess skin or other advanced signs of aging.

"That really requires a surgical consultation. It doesn't mean they need surgery, but they need to compare what they receive from topicals and injectibles versus surgery," he says.


GIORGIO ARMANI MULTI-FIRMING REJUVENATING RICH CREAM ($150)

Prolastin is the key ingredient in the Regenessence High Lift collection, which claims to "allow for ultra-complete regeneration of the skin's major components and particularly targets 'supporting bridges' to ensure the stimulated creation of a new dense and elastic skin structure." A rich texture loaded with peptides for reinforced elastin encourages skin plumpness and density.


SKINCEUTICALS REDNESS NEUTRALIZER ($65)

Designed for sensitive and rosacea skin types, Redness Neutralizer is a lightweight gel cream that strengthens the skin's protective barrier, reduces redness and flushing, and alleviates irritation. Redness Neutralizer is formulated with NeuroMed Complex, a combination of biomimetic neuropeptides and natural actives to combat the key steps of the inflammation cascade responsible for vasodilation, the main cause of redness and flushing. It promises to reduce redness and flushing by 30 percent. At skinceuticals.com.


ALGENIST CONCENTRATED RECONSTRUCTING SERUM ($95)

Biotechnology scientists in San Francisco focused on developing microalgae-based renewable energy solutions, unexpectedly discovered alguronic acid, a compound responsible for regenerating the microalgae cell. It's the key ingredient in the Algenist line, including the anti-aging serum. Formulated with alguronic acid, it promises to rebuild skin firmness and elasticity, minimize wrinkles and boost skin radiance. Dr. Oz picked it as one of the best new products of 2011. At Sephora or Algenist.com.


YSL FOREVER YOUTH LIBERATOR SERUM ($150, $200)

Yves Saint Laurent's entry is based on the discovery of glycans, cellular keys for youthful-looking skin. "YSL has identified an innovative combination of glycans, called Glycanactif, to unlock cells and help improve their vital functions, liberating the potential for youthful skin." YSL says it's the first to take advantage of more than 100 years of research and seven Nobel Prizes in the field of glycobiology.


ESTEE LAUDER RESILIENCE LIFT INSTANT ACTION LIFT TREATMENT ($65) and IDEALIST EVEN SKINTONE ILLUMINATOR ($58, $85)

The Resilience Lift collection targets dull, sagging skin, lines, wrinkles and an overall look of fatigue. Intense moisturizers amplify collagen, laminin and elastin production, making skin appear more radiant and sculpted. The Instant Action treatment is a temporary fix that plumps sagging areas and promises a "mini-lift" when you need it. Idealist Illuminator is a fast-acting serum that neutralizes redness, increases surface reflectance and blurs the look of imperfections as it works to reduce uneven skin tones, age and sun spots, acne marks and other discolorations.


BABOR HSR DE LUXE ULTIMATE ANTI-AGING CREAM ($161) and DOCTOR BABOR COLLAGEN BOOSTER CREAM ($158)

The nature-based Babor line from Germany is huge in Europe but newer in the U.S. The Anti-Aging Cream promises an "all-encompassing effect" as it combats signs of skin aging including fine lines and wrinkles, puffiness under eyes and age spots. The Collagen Booster Cream restructures the skin and plumps it up intensively from the inside, reducing fine lines and wrinkles and inhibiting the degradation of collagen fibers. Exclusively at Studio Booth.


CLINIQUE REPAIRWEAR LASER FOCUS WRINKLE AND UV CORRECTOR ($44.50) and EVEN BETTER CLINICAL DARK SPOT CORRECTOR ($49.50)

Repairwear is a de-aging serum that promises to reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles as it repairs and prevents UV damage "with results remarkably close to a dermatological laser treatment." The Dark Spot Corrector is suitable for all skin types and promises results comparable to leading prescription ingredients without the irritation.


ORIGINS YOUTHTOPIA LIFT FIRMING CREAM ($52.50) and PLANTSCRIPTION ANTI-AGING EYE TREATMENT ($42.50)

Age, stress, fatigue, the breakdown of connective tissues and the loss of hyaluronic acid can cause skin to lose its volume and contours. Youthtopia Lift Firming cream claims to help re-contour, lift and firm skin's appearance with moisturizers that increase volume, hydration, smoothness and "plumpness," resulting in more radiant-looking skin. Plantscription eye treatment uses the benefits of Anogeissus Tree Bark and other plant byproducts. It promises to visibly diminish the appearance of crow's feet, reduce under eye cross hatching, smooth crepey lids, and lift and firm saggy eye skin.


CLARINS MULTI- REGENERANT EXTRA-FIRMING DAY CREAM ($80) and VITAL LIGHT SERUM ($85)

The Extra-Firming Day Cream with SPF 15 targets wrinkles and reinforces firmness as it strengthens collagen fibers to improve elasticity. It has an immediate "lifting" effect on skin. The triple-action Vital Light Serum corrects the appearance of brown spots, firms and restores luminosity, with visible results promised in two weeks.


L'OREAL PARIS YOUTH CODE DARK SPOT CORRECTING & ILLUMINATING SERUM ($24.99) and AGE PERFECT HYDRA-NUTRITION ADVANCED SKIN REPAIR SERUM ($19.99)

Youth Code is designed to address dark spots and skin luminosity for women of all skin tones. The collection combines skin brightening ingredients and antioxidants to fade dark spots, post-acne marks and traces of visual sun damage. The lightweight Age Perfect serum works to restore dull, parched skin and reverse signs of aging on mature skin. The promised result is skin that is deeply hydrated and more toned and supple.


Marylynn Uricchio: muricchio@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1582.


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